James Madison University - College of Education

Reconstructing the Information Architecture

The College of Education homepage is part of the massive content structure that is the James Madison University website. The College`s page is a small fraction of a larger, unorganized web of information that has great potential to be a valuable resource to prospective students. The goal for the past two weeks was to identify a solution to reach this potential.

Meet John.

John was not only an important contributor to this project, the the UX process as a whole. John is a persona created to represent the potential users which we will base our research and findings upon. John has a short backstory designed to give context to his needs and pain points. This information will provide the framework for how research is conducted, synthesized and delivered. So I thank John for assisting in the removal of myself from the equation.

Stepping into John`s shoes.

My first step was to evaluate the current quality of the College of Education website and what it offered to users such as John. To do so, tasks were created to function as tests. These tests would parallel possible features John would need to access as a prospective student, and act as a measurement for how these features impact user performance.

Tasks included:

  • Searching for specific information about the Art Education program.
  • Locating admission requirements for the Art Education program
  • Viewing application fees separate from tuition.

Sitemap

Mapping out the current structure of the navigation was critical in visualizing the pages John would pass as he completed his tasks, and how these pages fit in the context of the JMU content structure. The Sitemap illustrates redundant navigation to identical destinations. It also demonstrates the vast number of navigational choices presented to users, and the lack of clarity of these choices.

Competitive/Comparative Analysis

As a prospective student, it would be unrealistic to assume that John is not considering other schools to complete his education. It is also important to view the tasks given to John from multiple institutions with similar criteria to assess how different systems handle the same problems.

I chose the following competitors:

User Flows

User flows were created to asses the ideal path John would take in order to complete his tasks. These flows were created to demonstrate the effectiveness of the College`s system in comparison to its competitors. Fewer steps do not imply a more efficient solution, however based on the user flows, we can see that George Mason university creates a more direct path through streamlined navigation that favors prospective students over current students.

Wireframes and Content Blocking

Low-fidelity wireframes are useful tools for viewing page layout and composition. Color fields can be placed to map main, supporting and interface content. Through these mockups it is easy to visualize the structure of individual pages and how the compare across the website, and against competitors. In conjunction with a content inventory, a full collection of the page`s separate elements can be collected and evaluated. Upon creating the wireframes, inconsistencies became clear. Navigational elements would vary page-to-page, and often cease to exist as you progress through the JMU website. The lack of global navigation on the COE website created a lack of connection to the JMU homepage, and forced users to take additional steps to complete tasks. The mobile wireframes also demonstrate this disconnection as responsive layouts do not transition to the college websites. When viewed against competitors we see a different prioritization of content and navigational structure.

Card Soring

In order to fully highlight the navigational problems, card sorting was useful to gaining feedback from participants. For this project, two categories of participants were targeted to gain greater insight.

Current Graduate Students: Woochan, Caroline

Prospective Graduate Students: Peter, Alex

For each participant two forms of card sorts were conducted:

Open, to generate data on how participants categorized topics.

Participants showed unique methods of separating relevant subjects such as priority, usefulness and function. The time spent dealing with certain key words raised questions about the clarity of wording and purpose.

Closed, to evaluate the current structure and clarity of navigation.

Participants categories were inconsistent with existing structure and presented the possibility for fewer categories.

The Prototype(s)

Prototype of existing layout: https://invis.io/6M7M7XK5Y

Final Prototype: https://invis.io/QB7LRXYWG

Based on the synthesis, a prototype was created,user tested, and revised. What resulted is intended to be a proposal of a layout that can be used across all JMU college websites in order to create a more consistent navigation and presentation of information. The global navigation has been added to reduce the steps users take and give a natural transition between the university website and the college pages. The promotional content has been de-prioritiezed and a new main content section acts as a resource for prospective students like John to access the right information.

Reflections

Most importantly I need to thank my participants and testers. I probably should have invoiced my client during the presentation for the pizza and coffee purchased as compensation.

But most importantly, there is a huge amount of room for improvement in this project. The need to prioritize independently and create threads across different forms of research was a valuable challenge.

Looking forward for the next opportunity.

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